What is a director of photography

Aug 21, 2015 8:00:00 AM

Ambient Skies Productions Blog

Posted by Trenton Massey

History of Film

At the turn of the century, film bore little resemblance to the art form it is today. Once the capabilities of motion pictures became apparent, it quickly evolved from novelty into a powerful storytelling tool. The medium was quickly enriched during the early 20th century with increased creative and technical complexity. As the equipment and capabilities of film evolved, the film crew as it’s known today also began to take shape.

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Anatomy of a Film Crew

Films crews are complex organisms; many different departments work cooperatively in a successful production. Responsibilities are divided by department and the stage of development for the film. While specific job duties may have changed significantly since the birth of film, jobs are essentially the same as when they developed a century ago. Smaller independent films can still operate with a crew as small as a dozen, but Hollywood blockbusters may have hundreds of credited crew members with specific and essential responsibilities. The director is the individual who oversees all aspects of the film and directs other departments in support of their vision for the film.

Advent of the Director of Photography

Camera operator was an original position on the first film crews. These individuals understood the technical aspects and capabilities of the camera, lenses, and lighting to help the director to capture their vision. Over time, director of photography arose to work with the director to make decisions about the aesthetic of the film. These decisions include filming digitally or on film, framing, lighting and camera placement. The camera operator position remains, handling cameras and communication with the rest of the crew.

The responsibilities of the director of photography change depending on the project they’re working on.

  • feature film: The DoP works with the director to form the look and feel of the film and develop its visual signature.
  • television: The DoP runs the ship on a television crew. They work to maintain the integrity of the Producer’s vision for the show and rarely answer to the directors who are swapped out every other show.
  • sports and news: The DoP needs to choreograph the camera crew to capture action and work with lighting in arenas and on location. The job focuses more on technical knowledge and management than artistic vision.


Directors of photography need to wear many hats on set, and must have a broad skill set to draw upon. As technicians, they need to be familiar with both camera and lighting equipment. They can draw upon the expertise of camera operators but they still need to know what equipment will achieve the right visual signature for the film. As artists they have to be able to interpret the vision of the director into technical decisions while contributing their own visual style to a film or show. They also need to be effective managers, guiding the camera and lighting department to work together in support of the film, and communicating the needs of the director to the crew.

Additional Resources:

eBook Download:  When there are so many different tiers of video production along with so many different tiers of cameras, are you sure what camera package will be best for your next shoot? This eBook will discuss different equipment tiers and what style of video production they are most commonly used for.  

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Topics: Corporate Video Production, Music Video Production, motion picture production,company video production, Video Pre Production, Video Production Phoenix, Post Production, video production services

Topics: Music Video Production, motion picture production, company video production, Director of Photography, video production services